Date: February 24-25, 2012 Time: 7:30 p.m. (Friday) 7 p.m. (Saturday) Location: CenturyLink Center Omaha (15,959) History: Nebraska Omaha leads 2-1-0 Television: FOX Sports North Plus (Friday - channel listings) FOX Sports North (Saturday) Radio: 1500 ESPN (both games) Live Blog: GopherSports.com Twitter: @GoldenGopherHky Facebook: facebook.com/GoldenGopherHockey
Last Time Out: Minnesota got back to its winning ways by sweeping Bemidji State last weekend. The Gophers scored early in both games. On Friday, Zach Budish scored his first of two goals just 60 seconds into the game to put Minnesota up 1-0. Nick Bjugstad would score a second-period power-play goals and Kent Patterson made 13 saves as the Gophers won 3-0. Erik Haula gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead 77 seconds into the game on Saturday. The Beavers tied the game 1-1 with the power-play goal before goals by Jake Hansen, Haula and Seth Ambroz secured the 4-1 win. Patterson made 21 saves.
Minnesota vs. Nebraska Omaha: This weekend in Omaha, Neb., Minnesota and Nebraska Omaha will reignite a young rivalry, playing their fourth and fifth games against each other all-time. The visiting team has won all three previous meetings dating back to 2003-04. Last season, Nebraska-Omaha earned a sweep in its first-ever WCHA series at Mariucci Arena, holding off two valiant Minnesota comeback efforts to win 5-4 and 4-2 on Oct. 15-16. On Oct. 11, 2003, the Gophers beat the Mavericks 7-3 on the road in the consolation game of the season-opening Maverick Stampede tournament in the only other contest between the schools.
About The Mavericks: Nebraska-Omaha is looking to make its second straight NCAA tournament appearance this year after making it for the first time since 2005-06 last season. After splitting on the road with Colorado College last week, the Mavericks sit in a three-way tie for fourth place in the WCHA with the Tigers and North Dakota heading into their final four games. Nebraska Omaha has not had the same result in both games of a weekend series since sweeping Alaska Anchorage on Oct. 21-22 and has gone to overtime nine times, which is tied for the most in the WCHA. Nebraska Omaha is led offensively by sophomore Matt White (16g-21a) and junior captain Terry Broadhurst (16g-19a). Freshmen Jayson Megna (11g-18a) and Josh Archibald (10g-5a) and sophomore Ryan Walters (10g-14a) have also reached double digits in goals. Defensively, the team is led by junior Bryce Aneloski (6g-13a) and sophomores Michael Young (4g-11a) and Andrej Sustr (3g-12a). At six-foot-eight, Sustr is Division I college hockey’s tallest player. Between the pipes, rookie Ryan Massa and senior John Faulkner have split most of the playing time. Massa is 7-5-2 with a 2.35 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage, while Faulkner is a 5-6-2, allowing 3.11 goals per 60 minutes with an .877 save percentage.
In The Polls: The 21-11-1 Gophers are ranked No. 6 in the USCHO poll and No. 5 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. Minnesota spent two weeks at No. 1 in the USCHO.com poll earlier this year and four combined weeks at No. 1 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. The Gophers began the year No. 19 in the USCHO.com poll and were unranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. They have been ranked in the top 10 in both polls since Oct. 17.
Leading The Way: The Gophers are 17-7-0 in WCHA play and have a league-leading 34 points. Minnesota Duluth is second with a 14-6-4 record and 32 points. Minnesota owns the tie-breaker against Minnesota Duluth, as the Gophers swept the Bulldogs on the road earlier this season. Denver is third with a 13-7-4 record and 30 points. This week’s opponent, Nebraska Omaha (11-8-5), is tied for fourth in the league with Colorado College and North Dakota with 27 points.
Chasing The Cup: Minnesota is chasing its first MacNaughton Cup since 2006-07 when the Gophers finished with 39 points at 18-7-3 in the WCHA. That season was also the last time Minnesota finished with more than 17 league wins, the number it currently has with four games remaining. The Gophers need six more points to finish with more league points that they had in 2006-07.
Home Ice: Minnesota secured home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs by winning both games against Bemidji State this past weekend. Minnesota is 14-5-0 at home this year and 10-2-0 in home WCHA games (overtime loss to Michigan Tech and a last-minute loss to Colorado College). Minnesota will host a soon-to-be-determined opponent in a best-of-three series on March 9-11 at Mariucci Arena.
Minnesota Nice: By winning two games against Bemidji State last weekend, the Gophers finished the regular season with a 9-1-0 record against schools from Minnesota. In addition to the two wins against Bemidji State, the Gophers were 2-0-0 against Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State and 3-1-0 against St. Cloud State.
Back To Omaha: This weekend will also feature Mike Guentzel’s return to Omaha. The Minnesota associate head coach was an assistant coach for the Mavericks last year, before returning to his alma mater for his second coaching stint.
Omaha Connections: For teams that have played one another only three times, there are a lot of connections between Minnesota and Nebraska Omaha. Maverick head coach Dean Blais played in 124 games at Minnesota from 1970-73 and registered 139 points (56g-83a). Mike Hastings, who is the associate head coach of the Mavericks, was an assistant coach for the Gophers in 2008-09. Gopher freshman Seth Ambroz’s brother, Matt, played for Nebraska-Omaha from 2007-11. Nebraska Omaha has three Minnesotans on its team in Josh Archibald (Brainerd), Ryan Walters (Rosemount) and Joe Krause (Hermantown). Archibald was also a teammate of Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau at the recent World Junior Championship.
More Than 20: Minnesota won its 20th and 21st games of the season this past weekend. This year is the first time that the Gophers have won more than 20 games since the 2006-07 season (finished that year with 31 wins). Minnesota won 16 games in 2010-11, 18 games in 2009-10, 17 games in 2008-09 and 19 games during the 2007-08 season.
Winning Month?: Minnesota began February with an 0-2-0 record, as the Gophers lost two games at Denver. However, Minnesota bounced back with two wins against Bemidji State and is now 2-2-0 this month with two games left to play. Minnesota has had a winning record every month this season. They rallied from a 1-3-0 record at the beginning of January to finish the month 4-3-0. Minnesota was 7-1-0 in October, 4-3-1 in November, 4-2-0 in December and 4-3-0 in January.
Close Encounters: The Gophers are 21-11-1 on the season. Of their 11 defeats, nine have been by one goal (including two in overtime). Minnesota’s other two setbacks were by only two goals. The Gophers lost 3-1 at Wisconsin on Nov. 11 and 5-3 at Denver on Feb. 11. Minnesota has played in 16 one-goal games this year and is 7-9-0 in those games. The record for one-goal games in a season is 18, which happened in 2006-07.
121 Goals: Minnesota has scored 121 goals through 33 games this year and still has four games to play in the regular season. The Gophers scored 113 goals all of last season (36 games). The 121 goals are the most that Minnesota has scored since it tallied 161 goals in 44 games during the 2006-07 season.
Potent Offense, Stingy Defense: The Gophers have the second best offense in the nation and are tied for the second best defense in the nation. Minnesota averages 3.67 goals-per-game (Minnesota Duluth leads with a 3.72 average). The Gophers allow only 2.09 goals a game, which is tied for second in the nation with RIT. (Union leads with a 1.75 goals-against average).
Youth Movement: Minnesota’s freshman and sophomore classes have dominated the stat sheets this year, as six of the team’s top seven point producers have either freshman or sophomore eligibility. The Gophers have 323 points this year (121g-202a) and the freshmen (68 points) and sophomore (187 points) classes have combined to score 255 points (78.9 percent). They have also scored 94 goals (77.7 percent) and dished out 161 assists (79.7 percent).
54 Straight: Dating back to 2010-11, Kent Patterson has started 54 straight games for Minnesota. Since taking over as the team's starting goaltender full-time in place of Alex Kangas on Dec. 4, 2010, Patterson has gone 29-19-6 and has recorded a school single-season record with seven shutouts this year. He has played every minute in net for the Gophers this season and leads the nation with 21 wins. He is the first Gopher goalie to reach 20 wins in a season since Kellen Briggs went 21-6-3 in 2005-06. Robb Stauber has the school's single-season record for wins (34 in 1987-88).
Playing Every Minute: Kent Patterson has played every minute in net for the Gophers this year. He is second in the country in minutes played with 1976:35 in 33 games (Andrew Hammond of Bowling Green is first with 1980:51 in 34 games). Dating back to last season, Patterson has played the last 3252:27 in net for the Gophers.
Three With 30: Kyle Rau had three assists last weekend and has 31 points this year. He is the third Gopher to hit the 30-point mark, joining Nick Bjugstad (36) and Erik Haula (35). The last time Minnesota had three 30-point scorers was the 2008-09 season when Ryan Stoa (46), Jordan Schroeder (45), Jay Barriball (33) and Cade Fairchild (33) all eclipsed the mark. Rau is the first freshman to hit 30 points since Schroeder had 45 points (13g-32a) in the 2008-09 season.
Streaking: Kyle Rau is on a five-game point streak (1g-5a) and is the seventh Gopher to have a point streak this season of at least five games. Rau also had a team-high eight-game point streak earlier this year. Nick Bjugstad has had both six and five-game point streaks this season. Erik Haula had a seven-game point streak, while Jake Hansen’s steak was six games. Zach Budish, Nate Condon and Taylor Matson all have had five-game point streaks.
Schmidt Assists: Nate Schmidt leads the team and ranks tied for sixth in the nation with 27 assists. His 27 helpers are the most by a Gopher blueliner since Mike Vannelli had 29 assists in 44 games during the 2006-07 season.
Condon Shorthanded: Nate Condon has 10 goals this year, but four of them are shorthanded. He is one shorthanded goal away from tying the single-season school record. Peter Hankinson (1989-90) and Steve Griffith (1982-83) each had five. Condon is second nationally is shorthanded goals behind Austin Smith of Colgate (6). Condon has scored shorthanded goals at Alaska Anchorage, against Northeastern, at North Dakota and against Colorado College.